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Cubs put another ace in the hole, beat Braves’ Foltynewicz on Tommy La Stella HR

ATLANTA – When the Cubs went into Atlanta for one game Thursday and beat Braves ace Mike Foltynewicz, they continued one of the damnedest season trends in the damnedest, most logic-defying season during their competitive window.

The team that couldn’t touch the likes of Dillon Peters, Adam Plutko and Heath Filmyer (look them up) has been literally unbeatable against the top pitchers they’ve faced in the National League this year.

“Honestly, I don’t know why,” first-year Cubs reliever Steve Cishek said.

Yet when the Cubs came from behind to beat the Braves 5-4 in the makeup of their May 17 rainout, they ran their record to 8-0 against the top three Cy Young candidates in the NL (Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola) and three more potential Game 1 playoff starters (Kyle Freeland, Clayton Kershaw and Foltynewicz).

La Stella and the rest of the Cubs seem to lick their chops when facing the best starters in the league.

It might be as strange a success story as it has been a key part of their 4½-game division lead with 29 to play – if not a harbinger for October.

“We’ve done a good job of matching those guys with our starting pitchers,” Cishek said. “And these guys have faced the best of the best for a while now. A lot of these guys are World Series champions. They know what it takes to beat the best pitchers.”

Mostly, the Cubs have outlasted the six aces, with Foltynewicz’s two losses against the Cubs the only decisions charged to the opposing starter in those eight games. Those starters combined for a 2.29 ERA in those starts against the Cubs.

“It’s a 162-game season so there’s going to be ups and downs,” said Tommy La Stella, whose pinch, two-run homer off Foltynewicz in the sixth was the go-ahead shot after the Braves took the lead in the fifth.

“But those guys when they’re out there, they command a different level of attention,” La Stella said. “It’s not to say that we’re not focused in the other games. But I think you see it when other teams play us. We usually get the best efforts from the other guys the same way.”

La Stella’s homer was his 20th pinch hit of the season, tying Thad Bosley and Dave Clark for the franchise single-season record.

“And he’s going to break it, too,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s always prepared, and he goes up there, and he’s not concerned about failure. He’s just trying to make something happen.”

Said La Stella: “It’s good to know that we can compete against the top arms because those are the guys that we’re going to run into come crunch time.”

In fact, they’ll run into Nola again Sunday in Philadelphia.

Late-inning heroics have been a big part of comebacks to win after those top pitchers have left the game against the Cubs: Jason Heyward’s walkoff grand slam against the Phillies’ bullpen in Nola’s start June 6, David Bote’s walkoff slam against the Nats’ bullpen in Scherzer’s start three weeks ago, and extra-inning rallies against the Mets after deGrom had left his two starts.

Also huge has been the best Cubs’ bullpen of this four-year competitive run, by far the most consistent area of high performance for the team this season.

And on a night when starter Mike Montgomery fatigued in the fifth inning of his first start in three weeks, the bullpen took over for 4 2/3 scoreless inning to close out the Braves – for the Cubs’ eighth win in nine games.

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And fire and defense.

Shortstop Javy Baez demonstrated both Thursday with a bat-slamming, helmet-slamming display in the dugout after a seventh-inning strikeout – followed two innings later by a fully extended, full-speed catch of pop toward center field for the second out of the ninth.

“It’s part of what we do that I’d like to see tempered a bit, how upset guys get after something bad happens,” Maddon said. “But the good part of it is, they take their gloves back out there on defense. They don’t carry that with them.”